European School in Brussels & The University of Nottingham
European Baccalaureat, Undergraduate Degree in Business Management and a Postgraduate Degree in Management of IT
PhD Student at the Horizon Doctoral Training Centre
The University of Nottingham
Favourite thing to do in my job: I love it when you get to a stage in your work when you get the results of a study. No matter how much work you do to predict your results and set up your study in a certain way you always find unexpected, new things. That is what makes research so exciting.
My work is all about making technology easy to use and more accessible for people – so I am asking: What can technology do for us.
When we first starting using digital technology it was all about the capabilities of the technology. But now that we have mastered building equipment it is all about making it more user friendly for all of us. We, as users, are very exciting as we are so different from machines – we have certain resources and certain things we are good with, but we are also terribly bad at others. If technology can appreciate our strengths and weaknesses, we as users could work with technology much more efficiently or enjoyably.
In my work I particularly look at improving mobile phones and how their interface can be improved by knowing what is around us when we move about and by understanding what our brains can and cannot cope with. So here is an example: We as people are very good as using gestures when we talk. We do it naturally and it doesn’t distract us from talking, or walking for that matter. But when we are walking it is very hard to look at something different, for instance if you are reading a text on your phone. And when we are talking it is very difficult to listen to something else at the same time. You would struggle keeping up in the conversation. This is because all these walking and reading or talking and listening use the same resources in the brain.
So in my research I want to change the way we interact with our phones, so that when we multitask (which is almost always), those tasks use different resources in the brain and it would be much easier to cope. For instance you could use gestures to communicate with your phone when you are walking or you could use images when you are talking.
My Typical Day
As a PhD student there is no such thing as a typical day, it can include reading up about research that has been done in a quiet place, meeting my supervisor or other interesting researchers, and preparing things like papers or posters to communicate my research to everybody else.
I have had a look at my calendar over the last year and picked out a few days to explain the different tasks I do:
Paper Writing Day
The aim on a day like this is to write up my research so that other people int he community can read about it. I start up by setting out the aim of my research and then structure the paper around it: what has previous research shown and what am I going to do that is new, how am I going to do it and what where the results, and how do my results impact on the current state of the art. Although writing a first draft could be done in a few days of concentrated work, it can take a long time to proofread and polish it before it is ready to go out into the community.
I also work on preparing and carrying out studies. Once I have selected a way of collecting data and have got all the equipment I need in order, I can crack on with working with participants. In my last study it took between 90 minutes and two hours for a participant to complete my study, which all took place outside. So I spend the entire day meeting new people, running a study, going back to the office to copy over data and grab new chargers and getting back out there to meet another participant. this is always a very exciting part of research.
I also, to my surprise, found that I have a passion for teaching. Last semester I was involved in running a statistics module for students that study Human-Computer Interaction. Something that is very important to interpret any results you get from a study. I helped to prepare and give a couple of lectures but I also prepared and ran weekly tutorials to teach the students practically how to use statistics in their work. It is really great working with students and sharing your knowledge.
There are some days when you are just stuck in meeting, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I meet my supervisors every other week to show them how my research progresses and to discuss what I want to do next. This can lead to quite heated discussions. Other meetings could be about presenting your work to others at the university, discussing ideas with colleagues or other students, taking part in workshops and so on.
If you are lucky enough you also get to travel once in a while. For me this usually happens once a year. I have been to the States, Sweden, Brazil and last but not least to Newcastle to attend conferences in my research area. You get a chance to present your own research and find out about what others are doing and you get the opportunity to network. There is always a spot of sightseeing too though!
So there is lots of different things that are involved in being a researcher, so it never is boring!
What I'd do with the prize money
I would create a game to be used in the classroom made available online, to give you a chance to understand what we research in human computer interaction and what things would change if we would have it our way.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
perfectionist, ambitious and determined
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Getting results that are truly new and original.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Once or twice, but I was more the studious type at school and lived large with my friends after school.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Gliding – I have been a glider pilot for 5 years now and a glider is still the most tranquil and exciting place to be at once
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Coming up with my own theory, travel around the world and explore everything, and becoming a famous glider pilot
Tell us a joke.
Sorry, that is something I am terrible with and better leave to other people..